Norway’s Knut Nystedt passes

Norwegian composer, conductor, and organist passed away aged 99 on Dec. 8

Photo: Wikimedia Commons Knut Nystedt in 2007.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Knut Nystedt in 2007.

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Born in Oslo (then Christiania) on September 3, 1915, he was regarded as one of Norway’s most significant contemporary composers of the past 100 years.

He was most known for his choral music, though orchestral, chamber, string quartet, organ, and piano works are among his prolific number of compositions.

One of his composition teachers was American composer Aaron Copeland (1900-1990), with whom he studied in the U.S. at Tanglewood.

Knut Nystedt grew up in a musical home. His father, Faktor Robert Emil Madsen (1885–1963), led an amateur quartet. He started studying the piano at nine years old. In 1917, he changed his main instrument from piano to organ.

Nystedt took his exam at what was then Musikkonservatoriet i Oslo (Oslo Music Conservatory) in 1936. This was some four years after his first position as organist at misjonskirken Betlehem in downtown Oslo’s Møllergata in the vicinity of Youngstorget.

Following his conductor debut with Filharmonisk Selskaps orkester in 1945, the young Norwegian then travelled to New York for a period of study with organist Ernest White in 1947. This was the same year as he took lessons from composer Aaron Copeland in the summer.

In 1950, Knut Nystedt started Det Norske Solistkor, conducting the ensemble for the 40 years up to 1990. They performed in all of Scandinavia, the U.S. (in 1960, 1973, and 1975), and Asia (1978).

Nystedt was awarded the Order of St. Olav (1st Class) in 1966, and made Commander of the Order of St. Olav in 2005 for his contribution to Norwegian musical life. He also received the 1978 Spellemannprisen (Spellemann Awards), as well as other prizes and honors.

Included in many international performances of his choral works is his Kyrie given by the Southeast Missouri State University Choir in the Robert F. and Gertrude L. Shuck Music Recital Hall at the River Campus last month. Peace I Leave With You, performed by Die Marienkantorei, a choir from St Mary’s Church, Osnabrück, at Derby Cathedral, also took place in November.

Additional source: Norsk Biografisk Leksikon.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit

It also appeared in the Dec. 19, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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